Monday, December 10, 2012

Hidden Most Visably

As previously stated, I met with the Apothecary. Upon our first introduction, he seemed the sort of man much in love with the timbre of his own voice, and from overhearing his conversations with other customers, I admit my first impression of him did not include a great deal of credibility. Rather, he seemed the sort who would weave a tale for amusement rather than convey the facts.

I still maintain that the Apothecary, called "Shorts" by the villagers, but whose Christian name is in fact Herbert, would gladly add details from his imagination for hours rather than allow a conversation to run dry. I suspect his friends call him Shorts, not with reference to his somewhat abrupt stature, but rather in allusion to the liklihood with which one is to be regaled with a shot tale upon entering his storefront. It is, after all, his propensity to tell tales which led the inkeeper to recommend his shop in the furtherance of my research.

When we first spoke, Herbert, rather, Shorts, told me that the family I had come to record were, in fact, not nearly the greatest oddity of the area. In fact, their peculiar troubles, which I shall reconstruct for you in detail as time allows, seemed, to his mind, commonplace.  Per Shorts' account, this village was settled by faeries originally, and when Men came, the fae retreated farther into the wilderness, save one. Shorts said that the faerie queen herself stayed behind to watch over the land and that she infected the blood of the founder's family, that they'd never be accepted elsewhere, and therefore must stay ever in these parts, from which her own kin had been driven. He said she marked them peculiarly, so that all who beheld them would knw they were not entirely of the Christian world.

I must note that the way Shorts savored the word "Christian," his utterance slow yet crisp, led me to the easy discovery that, in fact, the village itself does not have a church building and those who "keep the word" here generally do so by traveling to the next village over. I say it was an easy discovery, as I was surprised that I had not noticed the conspicuous absence of so much as a chapel. the village itself is quite small, and truly, I must be growing dim with the shortening of the days to not have noticed. I have always been one to point out that, in our field, what one does not see or hear is more important than what one does.

It was, however, that discovery which prompted me to keep my appointment with Shorts, who promised that he could supply me with evidence of his tale.  Of course, I am ever leery of any manner of shopkeep who purports to have evidence to show me, as all too often it turns out to be evidence he would like to sell me, and which he, himself has manufactured specifically to take advantage of the trusting stranger, hungry for a taste of the unusual or macabre. How many preserved  locust fitted with leatherwork heads or dragonflies and carved bone skulls have I had offered for sale? I am sure the record would provide an answer, though I do not maintain a count. I do, however, still carry a "preserved faerie," entirely carved of some sort of clay on my person, simply because the artistry of the counterfeit was superb.

I returned to Shorts' shop at the appointed time, just as he was closing for the evening. I was somewhat surprised when he ushered me back into the snow and locked the shop behind us. Typicaly, those looking to make a sale stay near their coffers. Nonetheless, he led me back to the inn, where I'd left D arguing with a smith regarding a new method of maintaining a desirable temparature at the forge.

Before leaving, D had admonished me not to be careless with the Institute's purse, and he gratefully took a seat at the table with Shorts and I, ready to step in and prevent any exchange of merchandise. His fears were unfounded, as Shorts proceeded to treat us to a most enjoyable dinner while he reiterated his tale with very little deviation. As expected, the tale had become somewhat more colorful in the hours since we first met. Now not only were the founder's kin bound to the village, but should they all flee, the village would be swept from the Earth in a great wind, and reclaimed by the trees. Also, he had added that the faerie queen herself still  lived just beyond the village in the woods and that young women went to her when jilted by foolish young men, and that women sometimes went to her in childbed, though both were risky, for of course, the faerie queen was jealous of her privacy and solitude. Her wrath, Shorts said, could be deadly.

Although the amelioration of his tale was expected, the color of it was not. As he was squaring with the innkeep, D pointed out that his tale still did not involve any proof, unless he intended to take us to the faerie queen. Shorts' face whitened at the suggestion. "Not for the world would I brave her doorstep," he said, and gestured as though crossing himself, only instead his hand to make a complicated loop pattern over his chest.

Instead, after the dregs were drained from his cup, he led me back into the snow. D stayed behind, which, in all truth, is usually for the best. People will say things to a woman that they'd never say to a man. I wonder if it is because they fear that when speaking of the fantastical, a man is more apt to ask questions that poke holes in their tales, or if it simply that talking to a woman reminds them of the stories they may have heard at mother's knee. Nevertheless, D remained behind, wrapped in the comfort of the brazer while I we braved the cold wind and went on foot to the home of none other than the mayor himself.

My immediate impression was that the mayor, who Shorts explained had descended from the first cursed founder, was still a humble man, and also a frugal one. The house itself was beside the school house, which doubles as a meeting hall for want of a church. It was a small stone building with a tidy garden, even in winter, but no candle's glow escaped the glazed windows. I would not have supposed any residents to be present if it were not for Shorts' insistence that the family was within.

Indeed, he rapped upon the door thrice and was quickly met with a friendly greeting, "Do come in, the moon is bright." The voice was male and quite cheery. However unorthodox, the greeting was no more peculiar than I have grown accustomed to, and when Shorts held the door I entered as a matter of course.

I have never seen anything like it.

What appeared to be a low stone house of the most ordinary sort, inside, was something entirely different. The ceiling, if one can call it such, was not a ceiling so much as delicate glasswork. The voice which entreated us to enter was right, the moon was bright, a detail which, although I had benefited from on the walk from the inn, I had failed to grasp the significance of. Although the snow was blowing in a strong wind, the clouds themselves were scarce, and a fat full moon hung low in the sky, illuminating the inside of the mayor's home quite remarkably. Many a night have I read by moonlight, but the clarity with which one could see was uncanny.

The similarities with a typical home were truly only in the shape of the structure. What chairs and other furnishings I could see were comprised of living saplings espalliered into the trappings of a home. They erupted from the floor in all their bark and greenery, and this site alone would have lent sufficient credence to the Apothecary's tale, but as is often the case, the truth is always stranger than the contrivance.

Shorts introduced me with full courtesy to the Mayor, one Everett Green, and his wife May. Mayor Green took both of my hands in his in greeting, and I felt the heat of his hands spreading through my arms. At the most cursory of assessments, he seemed a man somewhat unremarkable. His skin seemed pale in the moonlight, but so did Shorts'. He was tall, but not unnaturally tall, but his eyes seemed to take in and cast back more light than they should have, certainly more than May's eyes or those of Shorts. Even in the moonglow I could see that they were the blue of lightning and the most intense summer skies. Truly, I could not even ascertain the color of May's eyes in the available light. His hair seemed a shock of white, and stuck up from his head in wild angles. I did not imagine that he could not fit in well enough elsewhere, though I supposed his look was somewhat unconventional.  His wife May was a slight beauty, with bright hair that absorbed the moons glow. It seemed the color of cornsilk, but did not shine in the moonlight the way her husband's did. No, in the moonlight they seemed a tintype beside a painting, one full of color and the other washed out.

The longer I looked the more I saw the origins of Short's story. The drawn thinness of Mr. Green, the peculiar way the light caught in his eyes. Yes, he'd be noticed wherever he went, and it is, of course, best to stay where people are accustomed to your peculiarity, I suppose. I thanked Mayor Green for meeting with me, and he admonished me to call him Everett. He even thanked me for my assistance with the family who had brought me to the region. It seems that while Shorts found their predicament humdrum, Everett had found it cause for some concern.

I asked Shorts to retell the tale which had brought me to the Greens' doorstep. Interestingly, it was a much shorter tale in the presence of the progeny of the village's founder. In fact, it was quite simply that before Green's ancestor had come to settle here, that faeries had dwelt in these woods, and though they made way for Green and his party, they placed a doom on Green and his offspring that they would be marked apart from the rest of Man, that they may never leave the land graciously gifted them by the Old Ones.  Shorts, at this point, left out any mention of the faerie queen or her purported home in the woods, and eschewed the tale that disaster would befall the village should the Greens leave.

While Shorts told his story, May returned to her knitting, glancing sidelong and silent at Shorts. Everett simply smiled, rocking back on his heels, arms crossed over his chest. When Shorts had finished Everett thanked him for his tale and for bringing me by, and asked him to leave.

There was no anger in his voice, but Shorts immediately took his leave. Everett motioned for me to sit in one of the espalliered seats, which looked delicate but proved quite sturdy.

"Portulaca, my dear, why are you here?"

"The Institute sent me to listen, to watch, and report the stories, both mundane and fantastical, which are worth recording, and any evidence to support their veracity."

"So you are in my home this evening because Shorts told you a story about faeries and my family."


"It isn't true, you know."

I nodded, hesitantly.

"At least, not the way he tells it. Please take out your notebook."

I complied.

"When my father was a young man," Everett began, and I did my best to keep up in short hand, my pen scratching loudly across the paper. I am copying it out in longhand here for the sake of your ease in reading.  "his family lived on the East Coast. My father struggled to maintain a failing shop. He was a shoemaker. Every year the competition grew, and every year he had less. His father had wanted him to take over the shop entirely, but my father was too unsettled making shoes, and didn't believe that the craft would be of serviceable support. He was young and had more energy than wit, and set out to find a piece of land to farm. That adventure led him here. Shorts wasn't entirely wrong. He found a parcel of land which seemed to him perfect. On the river, he'd not have to worry at how to get goods in and out, and the soil was rich. The people with whom he'd traveled in the beginning moved on. They felt like they were being watched here, and they left him alone to clear his land by himself. Not long after he felled the first tree, he felt the eyes in the woods as well. He told me that shortly thereafter they came to him. They were tall and pale, and not at all like the natives he had first feared. Their hair was bright and broke the sunlight into rainbows. They were beautiful and frightening. They wanted him to go, but he would not. They told him that this was their home and that if he stayed, they would offer him no help, no shelter, no food, no comfort, but also, they would offer him no hostility.

My father took that for permission. He was a stubborn man and when his mind had been made up, there was no changing it.  The first winter, of course, was a difficult one. To hear him tell it he starved to death three times over and froze to death a fourth time. Spring came and thawed the land. He planted, crops grew. he worked early in his small field and late on his small home. For the first winter he'd huddled inside a split log cabin, but as he cleared the field, every rock he pulled from the field he used to build this home. It was lonely, and often he felt the bright but cold eyes of the Old Ones watching him. It was late spring when he first realized that there was a familiarity to the eyes he felt watching him, and early Autumn, when the leaves had first started to blaze in reds and golds when he found a garland of leaves strung over his door.

It did not seem like a hostile gesture, so before he tucked in for the night, he left an offering of a biscuit outside his door. That's how he met  her. She was the daughter of one of the Old Ones. She was shy at first, but soon enough they took to walking in the hills by winter and by spring, the fields, and while he would pull up the weeds that threatened to choke off his crops, she would laugh and whisper to the seedlings. He swore they grew faster when they heard her voice, and on days when she did not come to walk barefoot through his fields, it seemed to him that the plants hearts were as heavy as his.

His second summer here, the small party that had gone on without him returned. They had run into trouble with the natives farther west, their numbers were fewer, and their hunger as palpable. Suddenly, the feeling of being watched didn't seem like a good reason to look elsewhere for a home when my father had done so well for himself there.

The Old Ones did not approve of having more Men in their woods, but the daughter who walked with my father argued that they were most surely not a threat to the Old Ones. They again came to my father and told him that his kind were no longer welcome. Of course, my father was a stubborn man, and would not be moved. The Old Ones had ensured my father that he had no need to fear them. They were, for the most part, a peaceful people, but they had made no such promises to the new settlers. They had no use for Mankind, they told him, but it was then that the woman who had walked with my father, again, spoke up. she told her people that she had use for Mankind, and that she would cast her lot with theirs, if my father would take her to wife.

This was an abomination in the eyes of her people, but the Old Ones mated for life and with as much stubbornness as my father took to things, and her declaration was considered binding. Of course, my father had been a lonely man before meeting her, although she'd never spoken her name, he had come to hope that someday they would, indeed, be wed. And so it was that the Old Ones left her there with my father and withdrew into the woods. Out of deference to the Old Ones, we have never spread our village further to the north, and of they who Shorts called 'the Faeries,' only my mother remained.

As a child, I found the idea that they were anything unusual preposterous, but you see, my father tired of the east and began moving west before this country had a name. I was born in 1775 to a young man from the east and a nameless woman who made plants grow by whispering to them, over a hundred years ago."

As I slowly punctuated the last of his tale, I heard him light an oil lamp, and in truth when the yellow glow of the light fell on his hair, it gleamed back, not white at all, but blue.

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